The Red Wolf’s Paws And Claws (All About ‘Em)

The red wolf is the most critically endangered member of the canine family. They are only found in forests, wetlands, and bushlands of northeastern North Carolina.

Red wolves are known to be persistent runners, who can move through many different terrains partly due to their big and tough paws. Let’s learn more about the red wolf’s paws and claws and learn how it uses them!

What Do A Red Wolves’ Paws Look Like?

Red wolves have big and broad paws which are proportional to their size. Their paws have long and well-arched claws along with thick pads on their toes. The size of their toes varies and the middle ones are longer than the others. 

Additionally, they have webbed feet. The webbing is a piece of skin between the surfaces of their toes and it extends roughly halfway in between each of their toes. 

Webbed feet are common in many wild canines, and they do have practical use. This allows them to swim and helps them move normally by increasing the sturdiness and surface area of their feet.

The red wolf’s paws also have a function in imprinting their scent on the ground where they step. Each red wolf has a unique scent, and it helps the pack keep track of each other and determine another wolf’s location. 

How Big Are Red Wolf Paws?

The front paws and thereby the tracks of red wolves are 4 inches (10 cm) long and 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7 cm) wide. Their hind tracks are slightly smaller, about 3 inches long (7.5 cm).

Why Are Red Wolf Paws So Big?

Generally, wolves have large paws to carry and distribute their body weight evenly when they run and move around on uneven terrain. 

This is essential because uneven weight distribution might affect their balance and cause stress to their joints, bones, and ligaments. By having large paws, they are able to support their weight and efficiently move.

How Many Toes Does A Red Wolf Have On Each Paw?

Red wolves have five digits of toes in their front paws, while they have four-digit paws in their hind legs. Because of the extra digit, their front paws are larger than their back paws.

Scientists believe that wolves used to have five digits on each paw, just like humans have five fingers and five toes, but that the animal gradually “lost” one of its back toes due to evolutionary adaptation.

It was simply not an advantage for the red wolf’s ancestor to have 5 toes on their hind paws, maybe because it kept getting stuck, which meant that 4-toed hind paws gradually became the norm. It’s the same case for most dog breeds!

What Do Red Wolf Claws Look Like?

Red wolves have curved claws that continuously grow throughout their lives. Their claws are also thick and pointed, bending inward toward the paw.

In most cases, their claws have a color that is either black or dark brown, but in rare cases, they have lighter marks near the tips. 

How Long Are Red Wolf Claws?

Red wolves’ claws are approximately 1 inch long and 0.2 inches wide. The claws of wolves are generally smaller compared to other carnivores like lions and tigers because they don’t use them as a tool to hunt. 

Red wolves are pursuit predators, so they want their prey to run from them so that they can chase until the prey gets tired. 

They need to use their claws for locomotion. Having a more extended claw is only useful for ambush predators that need longer reach. This is unnecessary for red wolves since they will have already persistently chased their prey for a few miles.

Do Red Wolves Use Their Claws For Scratching?

Similar to other wolves, red wolves don’t use their claws as a weapon with which to scratch their opponent. Instead, they use their powerful jaws and teeth for hunting their prey.

Red wolves use their claws to dig and grip the surface where they walk or run. This helps them to create dens and to chase prey easily.

Do Red Wolves Have Retractable Claws?

Red wolves don’t have retractable claws. Generally, wolves do not need retractable claws because they don’t use their claws for climbing or hunting prey. Having retractable claws is a disadvantage for them because they wouldn’t fit their hunting style.

They don’t need retractable claws, unlike ambush predators that use their front paws and claws to grapple on prey. Red wolves just need their claws to help them get a good grip on the ground to assist them in gathering more speed while running. 

Are Red Wolf Claws Sharp?

Although red wolves don’t use their claws for hunting, they are still relatively sharp. The edges of their claws are constantly sharpened due to their continuous digging. 

The sharpness of their claws is essential for them. It helps them to keep their footing when running and prevents them from stumbling since their survival depends highly on their mobility.

Do Red Wolves Have Dew Claws?

The extra digit of their front paws is called the spur where their dew claw is located. The dewclaw is a digit in the paw located higher on the front leg of the red wolves. 

This digit does not make contact with the ground when the wolves are standing, so it is not visible in their tracks. It plays a vital role in providing traction and holding on to food as they gnaw on it.

When running at high speed or on a slippery surface, wolves often bend their feet enough that they can touch the ground. During this moment, the dew claw will help grip the ground and provide traction as they run and turn.

How Do Red Wolves Use Their Paws And Claws?

Red wolves’  paws and claws are used to help them move around with ease. They have a habit of running on their toes rather than their paws because it improves their dexterity while running by making sudden stops and turns more precisely. 

On the other hand, red wolves use their claws to get a better grip on the ground while running, boosting their speed and agility. 

What Do Red Wolf Prints Look Like?

Red wolf tracks have a length of around 4 inches. Their tracks look highly similar to those of domestic dogs and other canine paw tracks. Like other canines, their tracks are symmetrical

Their front and hind paws show four oval-shaped toes, visible claws, and a triangular middle pad. In addition, they have a triangular heel or foot pad in the middle with two lobes on the back, coming to a single lobe in the front part.

Can You See Claws In Red Wolf Prints?

The claws are visible in the red wolf’s tracks, but they don’t always show on all toes. Usually, only the pointed part of their claws is visible in the dirt. But there are instances when their entire claws are obvious if the soil is soft.

Their claws are visible in their prints because wolves don’t retract their claws, and they use their curved claws to grip the dirt and avoid slipping while running.

How Can You Identify Red Wolf Tracks?

Red wolves’ tracks can be distinguished from their closest relatives in terms of their size. Gray wolves’ prints are larger, with 4 to 5 inches long, while coyotes are generally smaller, measuring 2 to 2.5 inches long. 

Their tracks are usually found on sandy roads and trails. 

Red wolves also generally have more distinct triangular middle pads than other animal tracks, which reflects in their tracks.

How Can You Tell Red Wolf Tracks Apart From Other Tracks?

Animal tracks and signs are clues that give us valuable information to identify the local wildlife living in the area. Being able to identify the imprints of animals is a valuable skill that can provide clues about the behavior of animals.

Differentiating the tracks between animals is a good way of gaining information that we need in determining the wildlife population in the area.

Here are some of the animal prints that we commonly confuse for red wolves and some key points that we can use to differentiate them:

Gray Wolves

The best way to distinctively tell their tracks is through their size. Gray wolf footprints are bigger compared to red wolves. 

They both have two back lobes, triangular pads, and oval-shaped toes. Hence, differentiating their paws aside from the size is difficult because of the similarity in features. 


Coyotes are easier to differentiate because of their comparatively smaller paws compared to red wolves. It is also observable that they have three lobes at the back of their middle pad, compared to the two lobes of red wolves. 

Their middle pad is less triangular with its curved shape, forming a bell-shaped pad. Their tracks are also narrower and more oval compared to other canines.

Domestic Dogs

The front and hind paws of red wolves are aligned, creating a straight line when they travel. This is called direct registration. This is not the case for domestic dogs, as their front and hind paws are not aligned.

Their tracks are flatter compared to those of red wolves. The track size of dogs is relative to their size, and they often spread their toes outward.

It is also important to note that the claws of red wolves are more apparent, while the claws of domestic dogs are not consistently visible in the tracks.


The tracks of foxes are relatively smaller compared to red wolves. Their paws are also highly different because the middle pad of their front paws is an upside-down V-shape. Their toes are narrower with more elongated digits.

The middle pad of their hind paws is more expansive, with three lobes at the back and one lobe at the front– forming a bell shape similar to that of coyotes.  

Mountain Lions

One of the most distinct differences between the tracks of red wolves and those of mountain lions is that there are no claw marks in the tracks of mountain lions. 

Their claws will only be visible in slippery or difficult terrain where they will need to use their retractable claws.

Although similar in size, the middle pad prints of mountain lions are evidently wider, almost like a trapezoid in shape. It has three lobes at the back of its pad and two lobes in the front. 


The tracks of bears can easily be distinguished from red wolves. Bears walk on the soles of their feet, and not on their toes like red wolves do; each of a bear’s feet has five separate toes. 

The borders of the footpads are larger than the center, forming a rectangular shape compared to the triangular shape of red wolf footpads.

The little toe on their foot does not always register properly. Their front paws are wider, but the rear paws leave bigger tracks because their heels are often included in the tracks.

Differences in the Track Size and Shape of Red Wolves and Other Mammalian Carnivores 

Paw Size Number of LobesMiddle Pad Shape
Red WolfL: 3 to 4 inches
W: 2 to 3 inches
Font: 1 lobe
Back: 2 lobes
Gray WolfL: 4 to 5 inches
W: 2.5 to 4 inches
Font: 1 lobe
Back: 2 lobes
CoyotesL: 2 to 2.5 inches
W: 1.5 inches
Font: 1 lobe
Back: 3 lobes
Domestic DogsL: Less than 3.5 inches
W: Less than 2.5 inches
Font: 1 lobe
Back: 2 lobes
FoxesL: 1.75 to 2.5 inches
W: 1.5 to 2 inches
Front foot:
F: 1 Lobe
B: 2 lobes
Rear Foot:
F: 2 lobes
B: 2 lobes
Front Paws: Caret (^) -shape or turned V-shaped
Mountain LionsL: 4 to 5 inches
W: 3.5 inches
Font: 1 lobe
Back: 2 lobes
BearsL: Up to 7 inches
W: 3.5 to 4 inches

How Do Red Wolves Walk and Run?

The red wolf’s long legs make it easier for them to travel a great distance, especially when hunting. The bodies of wolves are elegant, powerful, and athletic. 

The angle of their elbows allows their weight to be correctly positioned on their legs.

This will give them the optimum shape for running for long periods of time.

They can cover vast distances because of their long and slender legs and the thick pads on their paws, and are able to run very far without getting tired. Red wolves can reach top speeds of up to 46 miles per hour when running. 

Do Red Wolves Step In Their Own Paw Prints?

Yes, there are times that they step on their paw prints while walking. This regularly occurs when they are calm and are moving lightly. In this situation, the hind paw tends to land on the path left by the front paw.

This is a common way of walking for many animals that helps them save energy. As a result of this, the footprint left by the back paw is frequently found precisely on top of the imprint left by the front paw. 

Do Red Wolves Drag Their Feet?

Red wolves don’t drag their feet, unlike domestic dogs that sometimes drag their toenails while walking. Wolves usually leave a cleaner stride, more concentrated, and distinct tracks with fine in-line footprints.

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